Examine the implications of the "CSI Effect" in civil matters?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think that there is enough documentation to suggest that the CSI Effect is evident in jury based legal adjudication.  Legal scholars have pointed to this reality as being a now- inextricable part of the modern legal system:

It has been documented that prosecutors are offering scientific evidence that they wouldn’t have even a few years ago—either because it is on a point that isn’t really that important or because managing the resources and priorities of a crime lab would have led to not producing it. They must do it now, lest a jury wonder where the CSI stuff was, and assume that an absence of proof is a proof of absence. . . . And really, that is the linchpin of the danger of the “CSI Effect”; a lack of evidence which is expected by an amateur leads to the assumption that if the evidence existed anywhere in the universe, the [advocate] would have offered it, which he or she did not, so therefore it doesn’t exist and the claimed event never happened.

In a Civil case, this becomes magnified.  In civil matters, "the plaintiff wins if the preponderance of the evidence favors the plaintiff. For example, if the jury believes that there is more than a 50% probability that the defendant was negligent in causing the plaintiff's injury, the plaintiff wins. This is a very low standard, compared to criminal law."  An argument can be made that the low standard of proof and convincing beyond a reasonable doubt can be where the CSI Effect has its largest impact.  

The "CSI Effect" is reflective of a more savvy juror.  The indulgence of shows with legal premises such as the CSI series, as well as Law and Order or Cold Case have created jurors who rightly or wrongly believe that they possess insight into the legal system.  This helps to add a sense of bias or preconceived notions that they carry with them into the adjudication process.  In a civil setting where the burden of proof is considerably less than in criminal matters, the potential detriments of the CSI Effect are magnified.  It is in this light where juror expectations have to be managed and where gently effective reminders have to be issued that clearly define juror responsibilities and weighing evidence on its presented merits.  The CSI Effect has forced litigators to ensure that they remind juries to examine the evidence as it is and not what should be or what might be perceived to be.  In this light, the CSI Effect is a profound one on the modern civil legal process.

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